Could deploying Google Apps be a career-limiting move?

Before using Google, understand its strengths and weaknesses, says Burton Group

Deploying Google Apps could be a "career-limiting move for enterprise architects" if they expect too much from the software-as-a-service collaboration suite and its "rudimentary" feature set, the Burton Group research and consulting firm says in a new report.

Google Apps is useful in a limited set of circumstances, the report says. Start-ups and other small businesses might want to use it as a basic office and collaboration suite. Google Apps can also be considered a point solution for businesses that need a "lite" collaboration or enterprise content-management application, or a rudimentary replacement of Microsoft Office for "non-power users" who need only basic e-mail, word processing and spreadsheet capabilities.

Even at Google's offices, Apps is used internally only as a collaboration add-on to Microsoft Office, the report says.

"Google has caught the attention of enterprises with its inexpensive Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) product: available at US$50 per user, per year," the Burton Group's Guy Creese writes. "However, the seductive price can spell trouble for enterprise architects and their companies if they don't do their homework: the solution's rudimentary feature set means that enterprises need to pick carefully and implement slowly."

The 55-page report was released last week and is titled "Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects?"

Microsoft Office has a huge lead in features over Google Apps, the Burton Group says, giving these examples:

  • Documents: "Google Docs does not support a table of contents, headers, footers, automatic creation of footnotes or end notes."
  • Spreadsheets: "Google Spreadsheets does not support some of the more esoteric functions within formulas (e.g., database functions), and cannot hide rows or columns."
  • Presentations: "Google does not yet offer a presentation application, although it is in the process of developing one."
  • Customized applications: "Using Visual Studio Tools for Office, developers can create customized business applications that leverage capabilities in Microsoft Word and Excel, for example. While the Google APIs offer some programmatic control, they do not offer the broad level of capabilities that Microsoft does."

In the area of collaboration, Google Apps supports instant messaging and VoIP, but not audio-video chat or group Web conferencing. And although Apps has e-mail and calendar support, it does not include wikis, discussion forums or RSS feeds.

The strengths of Google Apps are that it is easy to use and it minimizes cost. More specifically, the Burton Group says, with Google you don't need to pay for unnecessary power-user licenses, there's minimal training, it's easy to include workers outside the enterprise, there's no software to install, and online documents are not scattered on C drives or fileshares. Colleges and universities are a perfect fit for Google Apps, the consultancy says.

There are significant disadvantages for enterprises: power-users, however, and sophisticated documents are not supported, records management is relatively complicated, telephone support is available only five days a week, and it's difficult to plan for product upgrades.

Also, Google policies could put you at risk if data is lost. There's a 99.9% uptime guarantee, Burton Group says, but it's for e-mail only. And Google says in its user agreement that it will not be held liable for lost data, lost profits or lost revenue, or the cost of buying a substitute product if the Google Apps service fails.

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